In 1950 the People’s Liberation Army illegally invaded Tibet; what – in a gross distortion of events – China calls the ‘Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’. In reality for Tibetans, it is when China moved aggressively to consolidate its military occupation of Tibet.
China Claims: “the peaceful liberation of Tibet was a major event in modern Chinese history and an epoch-making turning point in the course of development in Tibet.” – President Hu Jintao, 60th Anniversary of 17 Point Agreement Speech, 23 May 2011
Reality: China’s ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet was a military invasion in which 40,000 troops from the People’s Liberation Army invaded its neighbouring independent country and seized control by force.
China Claims: “Tibetans are members of “the big family of the Chinese nation” and have “created and developed their brilliant and distinctive culture during a long history of continuous exchanges and contacts with other ethnic groups” Liu Yandong, United Front”.
Reality: Prior to China’s illegal invasion of Tibet, Tibetans and Chinese had little to no contact and China did not formally exercise control over Tibet. China’s leaders however classified Tibetans as ‘barbaric uncivilized’ peoples that should be ‘assimilated or eliminated’. Tibetans, fiercely proud and independent, showed no signs of assimilating and thus the CCP pursued policies to eliminate the Tibetan nation.
China Claims:“We must build up a Great Wall in our fight against separatism and safeguard the unity of the motherland, and push Tibet’s basic stability towards long-term stability” – President Hu Jintao – 9 March 2009, 50th Anniversary of 1959 Tibetan Uprising
Reality: After over 70 years China still relies on military and paramilitary control of Tibet, control which is stepped up around sensitive anniversaries. Between 2013 to 2017, China’s domestic security spending grew 34% faster than total spending and in 2017 it was almost 20% higher than its national defence budget, illustrating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to control and surveill everyday life, particularly in Tibet.
China Claims: In 2020, Tibet’s per capita disposable income for Tibet’s rural residents grew 12.7 percent, while that for urban residents rose 10 percent.
Reality: Despite vast investment in the Tibetan Autonomous Region the funds mainly benefit Chinese migrants and have actually contributed to the economic marginalisation of Tibetans. Andrew Fischer, an economist specialising in development who analysed Chinese government statistics calls Tibet’s growth ‘ethnically exclusionary’.
China claims: “We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai clique,“ – Zhang Qingli, Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary, 19 March 2008
Reality: The Dalai Lama is the pre-eminent representative of the Tibetan people and a globally respected icon of peace, who is viewed internationally as one of the “most admired me” in the world. He is viewed by Beijing as a “dangerous separatist”, and Tibetans found displaying his photo in Tibet are arrested and harshly punished.
China Claims: “All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages” Article 4, Constitution of the People’s Republic of China
Reality: The Chinese government has rolled back language and education rights in Tibet under the guise of improving access to education. Compulsory “bilingual” kindergartens immerse Tibetan children in Chinese language and state propaganda from three-years-old. Tibetan language schools have been forced to close and parents are coerced into sending kindergarten-aged to residential schools to learn almost entirely in Chinese.
China claims: In 2019, Tibet received 40 million tourists and its annual tourism revenue hit 56 billion yuan ($7.9 billion U.S. dollars). The TAR expects to receive 61 million tourists and achieve an annual revenue of 64 billion yuan ($10 billion US dollars) from tourism by 2025, according to local authorities.
Reality: Tourism in Tibet has been designated a ‘pillar industry’ by the Chinese government and in 2015 it aimed to attract fifteen million tourists to Central Tibet (CH: Tibetan Autonomous Region), which has a population of three million. Whilst attempting to maximize tourism’s profitability, the authorities control what tourists see and understand and tour guides and hoteliers are under pressure to provide an officially sanctioned version of Tibetan history.
China Claims: “without the peaceful liberation of Tibet, […] those oppressed and enslaved Tibetan people would not have deeply understood the policy of the Communist Party of China“ – United Front Work Department White Paper ‘Sixty Years Since Peaceful Liberation of Tibet‘
23 May 2011
Reality: In March 2009 the Dalai Lama said that Beijing’s policies “thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on Earth”. Ultimately, Beijing’s condemnation of Tibet’s ‘feudal’ past is a classic colonialist argument – ‘backwardness’ serving as a justification for invasion.
China claims: “It is necessary to actively guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society and promote the sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism” – President Xi Jinping, Speech at the Seventh Central Symposium on Tibet Work, August 2020
Reality: China’s attack on Tibetan culture is most pervasive in the religious sphere. Since the beginning of the invasion China has attacked Tibetan Buddhism in a concerted effort to undermine the core belief system at its very core and sever loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Chinese authorities intensified policies to control and manage the Tibetan monastic population include the physical destruction of monasteries, the expulsion of tens-of-thousands of monks and nuns, extreme and prolific ‘patriotic re-education’ campaigns that include a system of torture and sexual abuse of monks and nuns as part of a “transformation through education.”
China Claims: “China advances in environmental conservation, it is also improving its ecology-related policies and regulations for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to form an increasingly complete system for ensuring ecological progress”. -State Council White Paper ‘Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau’
Reality: Like the Arctic and the Pacific Island nations, Tibet is on the front line of global climate change and is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. The impact of rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, melting glaciers and extreme weather are being felt directly by Tibetans and impacting the fragile ecosystem.
A growing body of evidence challenges both the ecological and social wisdom of China’s environmental policies that are re-shaping the Tibetan landscape with devastating consequences. The reality is that massive dams, mining projects and mass relocation schemes have had a crushing impact on the fragile high-altitude ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau.
China Claims: “In carrying out the strategy of large-scale western development, development will be greatly accelerated and human talent will flow westward.” – Li Dezhu, State Ethnic Affairs Commission.
Reality: China’s rule of Tibet is one of the last remaining remnants of the 20th century-style of colonialism that was overthrown and denounced by the global community. China’s goal has been to integrate Tibet with China but all four generations of colonial policies have done is create social exclusion, deprivation and disparities between poor rural Tibetans and wealthy urban Chinese in Tibet. In 2020 a UN Committee has expressed concern that the high levels of unemployment of Tibetans is in part due to Han Chinese migration to Tibetan areas.
China Claims: ‘All herdsmen are expected to end the nomadic life by the end of the century’; report quoting Qi Jingfa, Agriculture Vice-Minister 1998.
Reality: Following the occupation, nomads were classified as ‘uncivilized‘ and their lifestyle threatened by China’s agricultural and collectivisation policies. In 2015-2020, official Chinese media claimed that over 2.8 million farmers and herdsmen in Tibet were ‘transferred’ from the agricultural sector to secondary and tertiary industry in urban areas – a programme designed to dismantle rural economies, further political indoctrination, undermine cultural identities, and expand surveillance measures.
Land, seized under false claims of ‘environmental protection’ in the age of climate change, is cleared largely to make way for dams and mining operations. For thousands of years, Tibetan nomads lived sustainably on the grasslands.
China Claims: “China has been strengthening its infrastructure investment in Tibet”
Reality: In August 2020, at the 7th Tibet Work Forum held in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China must build an “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet, protect national unity and educate the masses in the struggle against “splittism.”
China’s financial investment in Tibet is substantial, but the emphasis on large infrastructure rather than community-led projects has delivered patchy development that seldom benefits the poorest Tibetans. As part of the Belt and Road Initiative more rail lines are being built across Tibet – promoted as “poverty alleviation” but on closer examination the new rail routes tell us much about China’s motives and plans to increase the exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources and solidify the swift deployment of the military to more areas.
China Claims: ‘”Although Tibet is rich with water and hydropower resources, water resources are still one of the key factors in restricting Tibet’s development” Zhang Qingli, Former Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region
Reality: Many new large hydroelectric dams, mammoth water diversion projects, unregulated mining in the headwater regions, and the compounding effects of global climate change are matters of growing concern. Given Tibet holds the largest store of fresh water outside the Arctics, Tibet’s environment impacts not just for the region, but for all of humanity. Ensuring food and water security, requires a sustainable, long-term and trans-boundary approach to water governance.
Reality: Healthcare is not only unaffordable and inaccessible for a vast majority of Tibetans, but the spread of disease and the significant number of deaths due to the inadequacy of the health care system suggests that there is low investments into Tibet’s health sector.
Rights experts have analysed that torture in Tibet is endemic and is used systemically and routinely by Chinese authorities against Tibetans in custody. Their findings show that the level of violence directed at Tibetan political prisoners is frequent, extreme, and results in Tibetans being left with severe scars following a period of detention, including paralysis, the loss of limbs, organ damage, and serious psychological trauma.
China Claims: “China is a unified multi-ethnic country. Tibet is an inseparable part of China, and the Tibetan ethnic group is an important member of the big family of the Chinese nation. The Tibetan ethnic group has a long history and a splendid culture.” Protection and Development of Tibetan Culture, White Paper 2008
Reality: Tibetan cultural expression, which the authorities associate with separatism, is subject to especially harsh restrictions; those incarcerated in recent years have included scores of Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and musicians. Countless Tibetan language songs are banned and security checkpoints regularly check Tibetans’ phones for illegal songs and ringtones. Some 30 Tibetan writers and performers have been detained and served sentences.
Tibetan parents are coerced to send their children to faraway residential schools where the language of instruction is almost entirely Chinese, not Tibetan. This insidious plan is designed to stamp out the next generation of Tibetan speakers and eliminate Tibetan identity.
Reality: 70 years of China’s repressive policies and a severe and worsening security crackdown have created a crisis in occupied Tibet, provoking an unprecedented wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople. There have been at least 156 confirmed self-immolation protests by Tibetans in Tibet. More than 100 of the protesters have died.
In response to the designation of Lhasa as the City ‘with the Happiest people’ in 2010, Tibetan writer and intellectual Woeser responded “living under gunpoint day and night, being followed by snipers even when going to the temple to pray, how can there be any sense of happiness? Is it possible that after such a short time, Lhasa people left behind the gory terror of 2008 and their faces were wreathed in smiles again? Since they are happier than so many other people from many other Chinese cities, why do they still take to the streets?“.